In popular culture, and exploitation movies, cannibals are the disreputable cousins of the zombie; they have the embarrassing habit of eating unsuspecting people without any supernatural justification. There’s a distinct difference, though, between American and Italian cannibal movies – the former adhering to tropes related to serial killer stories, while the latter draw on anthropological ideas to provide a gloss of realism to graphic exploitation imagery. The contrast can be seen clearly between Andrew van den Houten’s Offspring (2009), Lucky McKee’s The Woman (2011) and Pollyanna McIntosh’s Darlin’ (2019) and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (1981).
Although there are obviously differences from culture to culture, many Asian movies share a tendency to to ignore the kind of “realism” Western, and particularly American, movies so often feel is necessary – which is one reason so many U.S. remakes of Asian genre movies take on a pedestrian quality nowhere evident in the originals. Three recent Asian movies – from Korea, Japan and China – use different approaches to explore societies in which economic and social inequality engender violence and to some degree madness. One uses blackly comic satire, one pushes genre tropes to absurd extremes, and one pushes neorealism into the realm of nightmare.
Style trumps substance in several recently viewed movies: from Stefano Sollima’s troubling depiction of mythic threats on the U.S. southern border in Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018) to Julius Avery’s disappointing exploitation of World War Two horrors for cheap thrills in Overlord (2018), from Drew Goddard’s ersatz Tarantino-like narrative play in Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) to Kenneth Branagh’s glossy rehash of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (2017).
Two Blu-ray releases from Indicator represent shifts occurring in American filmmaking at the end of the ’60s, with Don Siegel’s near-perfect heist movie Charley Varrick (1973) quietly trashing all the rules once imposed by the Production Code and Alan Arkin’s directorial debut with Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders (1971) offering an unsettling, blackly comic dissection of the violence at the heart of American society.
Terry Gilliam began to forge an identity separate from Monty Python with a film which seems superficially Pythonesque, but on closer look is a darker, richer and more dangerous view of an absurd world. Criterion’s new Blu-ray of Jabberwocky draws out every detail of a richly imagined Medieval world of blood, filth and horror viewed through Gilliam’s comic lens.